Three and a half months after crossing the busiest border in the world at Tijuana, Ned and I pedaled up the hill and out of Mexico. Reflecting on the rich and colourful experience of cycling through Mexico is difficult. But here goes.
In short, we had a great time. I am glad we did not heed the warnings we were given (mostly in the US) not to go. For every time someone told us it was too dangerous to travel in Mexico, we have countless examples to the contrary. We received kindness, generosity and found friendship pretty much everywhere we went. Most peope we met were thoroughly concerned that we were having a good time in their country.
Our negative experiences were limited to the following: a boy kicking a football at my front wheel; being slightly ripped off (I suspect we were charged the ‘gringo tax’ more than once); and some angry honking on the roads. Pretty good going for three and a half months in such a dangerous country.
Not that I want to downplay too much the obvious fact that Mexico has it’s problems. It is a country of extremes – much more stark than in Europe. First there is the geography: crazy high mountains, reaching up to 5km into the sky and pancake flat plains; humid jungle and arid desert; 10,000km of beaches and thick pine forests on the high plato. Pristine and beautiful national parks, but a devastating amount of trash dumped on the roadsides. The climate ranges from the temperate to the tropical, with everything in between.
There is extreme poverty juxtaposed with obscene wealth. Grand colonial cities and dusty pueblos. Bustling, colourful markets with every imaginable fruit, vegetable and cut of meat (full on sensory overload) and tiny grocery shops with no fresh produce, only dusty cans and packets of ancient crisps. There are ancient cities and ultra-modern, cavernous malls.
There is extreme violence (mostly related to the drug cartels) and extreme kindness. Corruption that reaches into all aspects of society, but also a huge sense of trust between friends and also total strangers, as we constantly experienced on our travels.
We learned to expect the unexpected in Mexico. Afterall it is a vast country of 109 million people, speaking 50 different languages.
We had some interesting cultural exchanges over the months. Some of the more unusual questions gave us an insight into how our little island is seen by others, thousands of miles away living a totally different life, in totally different circumstances. Here are some examples:
‘So, you are from England. Do you speak English?’
‘Have you met the Queen?‘
‘Do people in your country go to the USA to find work?’
‘Have you cycled from England?’
And perhaps most unusual of all: ‘Which country in Europe rules your country? France or Spain?’ Admittedly the guy who asked us this was drunk, but still an interesting twist on colonial history.
Maybe these questions show something of what the people of Mexico learn from popular media about England. I don’t know. Anyway, I do know if I took everything the media said about Mexico at face value, if that was my only source, I would have some pretty screwed up preconceptions too. I would be totally wide of the mark. The screaming, hysterical US news presents a Mexico that is unrecognisable to us, and to most tourists that visit – I’m willing to bet.
Thanks for bearing with my rant on the wonders of Mexico.